It’s been a harrowing last month or so for Arsenal on and off the pitch. The old adage, “when it rains it pours” could not be more apt to the describe the situation currently plaguing The Arsenal. February/March usually heralds the arrival of season defining games, Wenger talks up our chances and how we are ready to face them, the fans feel confident buoyed by the good early season form and then the world comes crashing down. Sounds familiar? It should, this has been a recurrent theme over the years.
A once fluid title challenge has now evaporated to reveal the bones of a battle for fourth spot. Seems everybody but us saw it coming. The media and pundits alike for months downplayed Arsenal’s title challenge to the chagrin of many a Gooner, we became paranoid and claimed there was a conspiracy to vilify us. Sadly all their premonitions have come true. In the space of a month and a half all hopes now rest on the FA Cup, the trophy Arsenal last won before the drought hit.
If Arsenal were to go on and win the FA Cup then it could act as a catalyst for revival and it would be poetic justice that the trophy that heralded the drought might now lead to a flood of silverware. But football is a funny little game of glorious uncertainties and an FA Cup win might just paper over wider cracks. The repercussions if Arsenal does not win the cup this year are too horrible to even consider. The hostility between the “Arsene Knows Best” and “Wenger Out” brigade has reached critical mass and it only needs one tiny flame to light up this powder keg situation.
A few seasons back one could sympathize with Arsene, he had to build squads with a meagre budget thanks to the debts incurred on building the Emirates which he did with aplomb. Key players left at regular intervals and yet he plodded on building his squads and bringing Arsenal to the brink of greatness only to have it seized due to a combination of injuries, bad luck and lack of mental strength. This while Chelsea and Man United continued to dominate the landscape of English football, a period that also heralded the rising of the blue moon in the shape of Manchester City.
Now however those issues aren’t present anymore. Wenger has the financial backing and a stable squad to boot, things looked promising as Arsenal amassed the highest points total in 2013 and fans dreamt of title No 14. But the rot of previous seasons seems to have set in once again. What is extremely frustrating was that this could have been avoided this time around. Despite the financial clout Arsene has failed to deliver in the last 3 transfer windows. The signing of Ozil was massive and turned the summer transfer market from a B- to a B+ window for us but it still wasn’t good enough.
The gaping hole of a good competent striker wasn’t filled and this has come back to haunt us. Giroud did a terrific job on his own up till January/February but since then his form has tailed off, 1 good game is followed by 3 terrible games, not good enough for a title challenge. It isn’t his fault, he is technically deficient and could never fill in for a Robin van Persie who could create something out of nothing. His off the field antics haven’t endeared him to the fans either. His inability to dribble past a defender and his lack of presence in the box when needed have stung Arsenal badly recently.
This issue could have been addressed in the January transfer window. A short term loan for any striker could have been looked at to help Giroud and mitigate the loss of our 2 main goal scoring threats of this season: Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey. Instead Wenger brought in an injured player as cover in what was one of the most baffling moves of any transfer window ever. Upon further enquiry Wenger said he only had a few hours to make the decision or pull the plug on the transfer. Surely an entire month was enough time to sort out better deals?
Goals are now like mirages for Arsenal fans, you get a glimpse of it once in a while but before you can reach out and grab it they disappear. The defence is leaking goals at an alarming rate. The maulings at Anfield, Stamford Bridge and most recently at Goodison Park have knocked the stuffing out of the squad.
After the Goodison defeat, Wenger was quoted as saying that he could not put his finger on what was missing. This was an extremely worrying statement. What has perturbed most Arsenal fans was the complete lack of fight within the squad. The biggest example of this was when Ross Barkley shoved Arteta to the ground and not one Arsenal player went to defend him. Games are won as much on the pitch as they are in the minds, that internal drive and motivation has to exist to succeed. The body language of Arsenal players in recent times suggests that they don’t believe anymore. It is as if this drive has been sucked out from them.
A portion of Gooners have jumped on the Roberto Martinez and Juergen Klopp bandwagon to soothe their pain. They believe they could be the messiahs to lead the new revolution. I am a little more circumspect especially when it comes to the case of Martinez. He is a wonderful manager with a great attacking philosophy and he has done exceedingly well in his first season in charge of Everton having previously won the FA Cup with Wigan. However I cannot forget the fact that he also led Wigan to relegation and jumped ship immediately.
As for Klopp, (the unofficial leader of every football hipster out there) after that initial euphoria of winning back to back Bundesliga titles the harsh reality has set in. Bayern are now back to their ruthless best and backed with their financial clout have established their hegemony over the German league once more. Klopp seems to be facing the same issues Arsene has had over the years and he is not coping with it very well.
I personally would like Arsene to stay for two more seasons regardless of what happens by the end of the current season. With most of his vital squad players tied down to long term deals and without any financial constraints he can once again build a formidable squad. If he still cannot win anything despite that at the end of those two years then I think it would be a good time for him to walk away. This will also give the Arsenal board time to assess any potential successors like Martinez provided he is still at Everton and isn’t snatched up by any big club.
I believe Arsene is the right man for Arsenal currently despite my many criticisms of him. He does need to tweak a few things to once again be successful. His failure to move on with the times and his stubborn nature has cost him dearly. If there is anything evolution has taught us it is that the ability to adapt is vital for survival.
This principle can be applied to the football world too and that is why managers like Mourinho and Guardiola have had such unparalleled success. They change tactics and adapt as the games and situations demand. Wenger on the other hand has stuck to his age old formulae which may work against the smaller sides but have come undone against the top sides and hence the horrible “accidents” us Gooners have witnessed in recent seasons.
When Arsene first arrived in England he heralded a revolution that yielded multiple rewards. He needs to rekindle that spirit to restore the club to its former glory. At this point of time a quote from The Dark Knight strikes me as fitting,” You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain”. I just hope Arsene doesn’t end up as the latter.
Mean Lean's Response
To be fair Arsene did not need another midfielder (at least those available) until Ramsey got injured so he had little time from that point and not from the start of the window. This really is a crossroads isn't it? Beat Wigan and then beat Hull City or Sheffield United along with finishing in the top four then buy what is required to take this squad to the next level and this season could be looked back as a successful stepping stone to future success but don't win the cup and well, it will become unbearable.
All that is important today is beating Wigan, let's do that.